The 2010 Elections: Problems, Problems

Written on February 23, 2010 – 9:03 am | by mediaandelections |

No one would disagree that the 2010 elections are the most problematic in recent history. As election day approaches, the challenge to journalists is to be vigilant and critical in monitoring the country’s preparations for the planned nationwide automated system that will be inaugurated in May.

According to the Automated Elections Watch or AES Watch (pronounced “eyes watch”), the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Smartmatic-TIM “are not prepared to fully automate the May 2010 elections, putting the coming elections at great risk because of delays and lack of safeguards in the preparatory stage.”

AES Watch created the STAR (System Trustworthiness, Accountability and Readiness) Scorecard to assess 20 areas of concern in the 2010 automated

elections. So far these include the late delivery of hardware and software components to the Comelec; the poor quality of the machines; the non- availability of the source code of the programs that will be used; the limitations of such resources as the telecommunications/transmission and power infrastructures in voting centers; the lack of training of election personnel; minimal voters’ education; and the absence of contingency plans in case of system failure, among others.

Based on its STAR Scorecard appraisal, AES Watch said in its launch last January 18 that the “Comelec is in the danger zone in its preparations for the coming May 10, 2010 automated elections.” Of 20 areas of concern, Comelec failed in one: the source code. “The source code was not made available and open to interested political parties or groups which may conduct their own review,” AES Watch conveners said. AES Watch’s Star Card gave a “warning” rating for 11 other items, a “danger” rating for 8 items, and did not issue a “pass” for any item “because of its pattern of delays and changes in the calendar as well as inability to install needed internal safeguards for the election system as of January 15, the cut-off date of the Scorecard study.”

Organized in October 2009, AES Watch is a private, nationwide, multi-sectoral network of citizens groups and individual volunteers promoting peaceful, transparent, and credible elections in 2010. Its convenors include the UP Alumni Association, the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines, the National Union of Students of the Philippines,; the Concerned Citizens’ Movement, and the Movement for Good Governance (MGG), among others.

During a roundtable organized by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) with journalists and civil society organizations last Jan. 15, Ernie Ordonez, an MGG member and former agriculture secretary, flagged participants on the assessments by AES Watch regarding the Commission on Elections’ preparedness for the nationwide automated elections in 2010.

Campaign finance

The avalanche of political advertisements in the media before and during the official campaign should serve as a red flag for the press to monitor campaign finances, particularly the sources of candidates’ funds.

One difference in this year’s campaign in terms of political advertising was the Eat Bulaga segment used to promote Sen. Manuel “Manny” Villar Jr’s. candidacy less than three weeks before the official campaign for national candidates had started.

For more than two weeks, the popular noontime program aired “Stop my Hirap (Stop my Poverty),” offering contestants cash and grocery money. Villar sponsored the five-minute game show segment, probably the first of of its kind in Philippine political advertising strategy. The segment was aired over Eat Bulaga, which is co-hosted by Villar endorser Michael V. Eat Bulaga is a rival program of ABS-CBN 2’s Wowowee, hosted by Willie Revillame, who is also one of Villar’s celebrity endorsers.

“‘Stop My Hirap’ aimed right at the gut of the hungry masses as well as the middle class,’ political analyst Ramon Casiple told the Philippine Daily Inquirer last Feb. 6 (“Villar money rules noontime TV shows,” p. A1)

The program, which used Villar’s image, slogan, and signature color, started Jan. 19 and ended Feb. 6, two days before the official campaign period began.

Still new this year were some of the candidates’ advertisements over Youtube, Google ads, Facebook, and other popular Internet networking and sharing sites.

The Comelec admitted its inability to monitor and restrict political advertisements or propaganda on the Internet. The poll body also announced that it could not restrict game shows sponsored by candidates or their guest appearances in television shows.

These advertising strategies do raise questions as to why some candidates are spending so much in order to catch the attention of the public, and presumably, get elected.

For a mere P4.68 million in six years before taxes (or P3.18 million after tax) salaries, one can only wonder why candidates, especially those that want to run a decent campaign, had to spend from as low as P2 billion to as high as P6 billion (figures based on the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism or PCIJ) to win the Presidency.

“It is a big mystery why these candidates are committing financial suicide by deciding to spend so much money for so little in lawful income they could receive once in office,” PCIJ wrote Feb. 7. (“Top bets for president grow wealth despite poll expenses”)

In the 2007 campaign, eight senators—including 2010 presidential contenders such as Villar and Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III—violated the airtime limits provision of the Fair Election Act, according to a study by Pera’t Pulitika (PaP/Money and Politics). In 2007, PaP monitored the campaign spending of senatorial, party-list, and selected local candidates. PaP is also monitoring campaign spending in this year’s campaign and elections. Judging from the spending in the run up to the official campaign period, the results are likely to be even more mind boggling this year than in 2007.

CMFR Monitor of the News Media Coverage of 2013 Elections

Given the special nature of the 2013 campaign and elections, the media’s role as credible and critical sources of information and analysis during the election season bears watching. The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) is monitoring the news media coverage of the 2013 campaign and elections in the context of both the special circumstances in which they were taking place, and the opportunity for improved and meaningful reporting and analysis the exercise offered to the Philippine media. 

CMFR has been monitoring media coverage of Philippine elections since 1992, and in every instance has made recommendations towards the improvement of media coverage. These efforts have not been unrewarded. Changes in media coverage incorporating some of the recommendations of the CMFR monitor in 2004 were evident, for example, in the media coverage of the 2007 elections.

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